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Piontek picks up more vital Olympic ranking points with African Open gold
- Updated: November 10, 2015
By Mark Etheridge
Commonwealth gold medallist Zack Piontek has added another gold medal to his collection and more invaluable rankings points in his race to get to next year’s Olympic Games in Rio.
The recently married Piontek overcame Algerian Abderrahamne Benamadi to win the -90kg division at the African Open competition in Port Louis, Mauritius at the weekend.
On his return to South Africa Piontek took time out to take Road to Rio 2016 down his golden path.
‘It was a hard, hard day. Four fights and every one of them was really tough!
‘My first fight was against Azerbaijan’s Rustam Alimli and he’s a good judo, very, very hard fight. I was ahead in the beginning because he had two shido penalties to my one. But then I got one so it was all square and with just 15 seconds to go he got a third shido. So it was looking good for me but then he got a small yuko score against me and of course a scoring move always beats penalties.’
That meant Piontek had just eight seconds to go to redeem things.
”I put heaps of pressure oh him to try and throw him but he made a wrong move and went off the mat and got a fourth shido and if you get four shido’s its automatic disqualification. So that was a real nail biter and if I’d lost that one I would have been out and there would have been no points for me.’
A relieved Piontek then took on Great Britain’s No1 in the shape of Andrew Burns, an opponent who he has fought twice before, at last year’s Commonwealth Games and then at last year’s Mauritius Open where he turned the tables on Piontek.
‘So it was very important for me to win this one. And I actually did that surprisingly easy. I threw him with two waza-ari’s which becomes an ippon and that’s an immediate win. It was actually quite a short fight!’
Then it was into the semi-final stages where he took on Italian Walter Facente. ‘This guy is damned good and not one of his fights went the distance and he won both of them easily.’
And it didn’t start off well for Piontek as he was on the back foot from the get-go. ‘He had a waza-ari against me as well as a shido. He was also controlling things for the most part with good grip-fighting. But then he gave me the slightest of chances and I caught him with a big ippon and the crowd went absolutely mad.’
That saw Piontek into the final with more vital Olympic points the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow.
He came up against Benamadi a man who has had the upper hand over the Pretoria pugilist to date with around four victories to just a pair of triumphs by Piontek.
‘He’s the No1 fighter in Africa in my weight division. I fought him cleverly. I controlled the fight with grips and got a waza-ari quite early on. We both had two shido’s against us. There was a moment where he had me in a grip but I managed to get out before the required 20sec pin down that makes it an ippon. He also threw me with a little yuko but the wazari-ari is still a higher point so that’s how I ended up winning. The fight went the whole distance, five minutes of hard fighting.
‘So it was a constant to-and-fro affair. But that makes my win feel so much better and naturally it’s vital points… 100 to be precise.’
Things are looking very good for Piontek now in terms of Olympic qualification.
He currently lies 26th in his weight division’s Olympic qualification rankings with 440 points. And up ahead of him are many countries with ‘doubles’, meaning they have two fighters qualified but only one per country is permitted.
‘Things are looking very good for Rio but naturally nothing is certain right now. My goal is 600 points I’m sure 650 would seal it for certain and I think I’ve got a very good chance.’
Piontek was one of seven SA fighters in action in the island competition. The only other fighter to make an impact though was Commonwealth Games bronze medallist Siyabulela Mabulu who took fifth place in the -66kg group.
Other SA fighters were Luthando Biko (-60kg), Seamus Mingay (-66kg), Archiebald Mpongoshe (+100kg), Dale Whittaker (-81kg) and
Zelda Olivier (-57kg), the only female fighter.
Next up for Piontek will be a tournament in Japan in December but he’s also hoping to arrange a trip to Korea later this month as the hunt for more points hots up.
Picture of Piontek courtesy of Reg Caldecott